About 600 Montana students presented their answers to some of life’s burning questions – on everything from dog saliva to fire retardants – during the 59th annual Montana State Science Fair at the University of Montana on Monday.
The two-day event opened with setup time for students in the morning, followed by afternoon judging by nearly 300 volunteer judges. More than 60 campus, community, business and individual donors make the fair possible.
Curious community members can take a look at the exhibits from 8 to 10:30 a.m. Tuesday in the Adams Center.
The winners will be announced during a ceremony at 10 a.m. in the Dennison Theatre, with Lt. Gov. Angela McLean naming the two high school students who have been selected to attend the monthlong National Youth Science Camp this summer in West Virginia.
Four regional fairs feed into the state competition, and the grand winners from the regional and state competitions will compete this May at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles.
Other questions this year’s projects sought to answer included whether glow sticks glow longer when they’re warm or cold, how many volts of electricity a hamster can generate and whether listening to classical music improves student test scores.
Kian Saadi, a sixth-grader at St. Matthew’s Catholic School in Kalispell, swabbed areas of his house and then added dog saliva to the petri dishes to see if it would kill bacteria.
Turns out people should be less worried about getting licked on the face by their dog than about the bacteria growing on their entryway rug, since the saliva killed bacteria in most of the petri dishes, he said.
“Your dogs, when they lick you, it’s not as bad as you think,” Saadi said.
Other projects tackled questions with larger implications: Does size and shape impact a wind turbine’s effectiveness? Are preschool-age boys or girls more likely to mistake medication for candy? And how do fire retardants impact soil pH levels and ecosystem recovery?
When a fellow student at Missoula International School mistook a green capsule on the floor as a piece of candy and was rushed for medical care, eighth-grader Georgia Littig turned the experience into her project.
She tested whether young boys or girls are more likely to mistake medicine for candy and found that both made mistakes about the same number of times.
The research contributes to the larger issue of keeping children safe, Littig said.
“I don’t want any of them to get hurt,” she said.
Carter County High School senior Alissa Wolenetz said she hopes people who view her project at the fair learn about fire suppression and how policies supporting it could be hurting fire-dependent ecosystems.
She studied the impact of fire retardants on soil pH levels, and found that soil pH was decreased by the retardants.
Forest fires are becoming more heavily covered in the media, and one burned close to her hometown of Ekalaka in 2012, she said of the reason for choosing the project.
As a sophomore, Wolenetz attended the international fair with another soil-related project, and although she spent the morning practicing her presentation, she was as eager to check out the competition as she was to wow the judges.
“I come more to learn than to compete,” she said.
Science fair projects foster lifelong interest in science and make students more familiar and comfortable with science and lab work in general, said Earle Adams, the fair’s director and a research professor in UM’s chemistry department.
“It kind of breaks that barrier a little bit to actually get into a lab,” he said.
Getting kids interested in science increases the likelihood that he or other professors will see them in research classes when they reach college, which is crucial during a time when shortages of professionals in science and engineering fields are expected, he said.
The future holds many scientific, environmental, agricultural and medical challenges, Adams said.
“We’re going to need a lot more people to tackle those,” he said, adding that students at the science fair could fill the slots.
For more information about the science fair, visit cas.umt.edu/mtsciencefair.